Archive for the ‘women’ Category


The New Forest Amnesty group is hosting a talk on 28 November and the details can be found below.  It is free.

New Forest Talk (pdf)

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The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, aims to ease the suffering of women in conflict areas.  Will action follow?

We have often posted items on this site concerning our support for, and arming of, the Saudi regime in its war in Yemen and the awful human toll that this has caused.  Thousands have died, cholera is at epidemic proportions and civil society has been catastrophically damaged.  A blockade is making matters worse.  The has been considerable evidence that UK arms have been used to attack civilian targets including schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals.  Yet we continue to aid the Saudis and the sale of weapons continues.  The Royal family is used to visit the regime and to welcome them here on a recent state visit.  The sale of weapons is so valuable that any concern at the destruction caused is effectively ignored.

In the context of the Yemen, as in many other conflicts, it is women and children who suffer often disproportionately.  The destruction of their community, the bombing of medical facilities and schools, the difficulty in acquiring food and clean water, all make life extremely difficult for them.  So it was interesting to read that the Defence Minister, Gavin Williamson, attended a meeting in London with representatives of countries experiencing conflict.  Countries included:  the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Ukraine, as well as several international action groups, were welcomed to discuss the issues faced in their countries, particularly by women.

It is noticeable that Yemen was not among them.

Mr Williamson said:

Conflict can have devastating effects for anyone caught in its path, but life can be particularly traumatic for women. They are subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and their calls for justice are often falling on deaf ears.

I am determined we do more to listen to those who are often not given a voice. It is only by understanding the situation faced by women and girls that we will be able to protect them. Ministry of Defence news story, 19 July 2018 [accessed 27 July]

It appears that most if not all the countries attending had UK-trained peace keepers deployed there.  The news story went on to claim:

The UK has already increased peacekeeping in Sudan and Somalia, has deployed four Military Gender and Protection Advisers to DRC and has established a UK centre of excellence to integrate guidelines on women, peace and security into its work.  It is also among the first countries to publish a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

The minister claims that he is determined to ‘do more to listen to those often not given a voice‘.  This raises the question of what happens when he is told it is your weapons which are destroying our lives.  What more does he need to be told?  There have been countless authenticated reports on the destruction our weapons (and those of USA and France) have caused in war zones like Yemen.  A Médecins sans Frontières report is another example among many.  Countless reports, evidence on the ground, news reports and footage, all graphically describe the terrible events in that country.

So the questions for Mr Williamson are – when you have read the reports and done your ‘listening’ what are you going to do?  Will you take steps to cease arming the Saudis with weapons they are using to cause such mayhem?  Will you bring home the RAF personnel who are involved in the conflict?  What in short will you do to ease the plight of women caught ‘in its path’ as you put it?  Or was this just an exercise in public relations which will have no tangible or beneficial effects on the lives of women in war zones?

Will you listen and do nothing?


If you live in the Salisbury area we would be pleased to welcome you to our group.

 


 

At its meeting on Thursday evening, the group decided that the profits from the stall which will take place in the market square in Salisbury tomorrow – Saturday – will go to this month’s Amnesty Urgent Action.  In the event we took £234 so over £460 will go the the African state.  Thanks to all those who helped on the stall and who bought things from us.

IMG_4031

Picture of the stall in Blue Boar Row, Salisbury

 

This action concerns the treatment of women in Burkina Faso and in neighbouring Sierra Leone.  They are subject to forced marriages often to men who are up to 50 years older than them.  Some can be married as young as 10.  They have no choice over these marriages nor when nor whether to get pregnant.  Some have babies at such a young age that their lives can be threatened or they experience lasting medical complications including incontinence.  Female Genital Mutilation is also common.

The Department for International Development DfID has agreed to match any funds raised by Amnesty for a programme of education in those countries.

So all funds will go to this cause (less the fee we have to pay Salisbury City Council for the pitch)

You can read further details if you wish

UPDATE: 23 June

Report sent to the Salisbury Journal and was published 23 June can be read here:

The funds raised by the Salisbury group of Amnesty International at their stall last Saturday are to be sent to Burkina Faso in Africa as part of a programme to help girls and women in those countries.
The group managed to raise over £234 and this will be doubled by the Department for International Development to make £468.  In Burkina Faso, whether you are a girl or a woman, you are prevented from making crucial decisions about marriage and whether or when to get pregnant.  Some girls as young as 10 are married and their partners can be as much as fifty years their senior.  Physical and sexual violence against women and girls is common and a particular concern is the large number of pregnancy complications and death among girls who bodies are not yet ready to bear children.
Amnesty in Burkina Faso is working with 5 of the shelters which house girls who have been subject to early forced marriage or female genital mutilation.
Andrew Hemming, the chair of the local group said “we are delighted to have contributed to this scheme and for the funds to go to such a good purpose.  The doubling of the monies raised by DfID makes it extremely worthwhile.”  Further details can be found on the group website

We reproduce a piece written by Fiona Bruce MP on the subject of violence against women and the denial of human rights in North Korea [DPRK]

As we mark International Women’s Day, I am minded to reflect upon the recent conference in the House of Commons hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, of which I am Co-Chair.  Titled Addressing Violence against Women and Girls in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the conference looked to a forgotten corner of Asia and a forgotten group of people: North Korea’s women and girls.

Notorious for its diplomatic belligerence, its disregard for international law and its nuclear programme, the DPRK (or North Korea) successfully concealed its widespread human rights violations from the world for decades.  An era of silence ended in 2014 when a United Nations Commission of Inquiry reported:

The gravity, scale and nature of [North Korea’s human rights] violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.

The severity of this UN statement is worth repeating: North Korea’s human rights situation has no parallel in the contemporary world.

Violence against women

As the international community slowly awakened from its slumber, it was no longer farfetched to recognise North Korea as the largest concentration camp the world had ever known or to rank the horrors of Yodok, Hoeryong, and Pukch’ang alongside Auschwitz, Belsen, and Dachau.  It became a fact that North Korean women have and continue to experience sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault and harassment in public and private spheres of life; human trafficking; forced abortions; slavery; sexual exploitation; psychological violence; religious and gender discrimination; and institutional and economic violence.

This violence in North Korea is neither occasional nor confined to certain quarters — it is endemic; it is state sanctioned; and it is perpetrated against women precisely because they are women.  In every sense of the term, North Korea’s abuses are ‘gendered’.

Why has the international community been silent on this issue?  We can look to many factors, but first and foremost is the discourse that surrounds North Korea.  Dominated by talk of nuclear weapons, regional security, engagement, unification, and humanitarian aid, there has been little room for North Korean women.  And, if truth be told, advocates have simply not been loud enough on this issue.

This year’s International Women’s Day marks an important phase for women’s rights.  Just months after the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women, and fifteen years since the pioneering UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, this is the year that the world is developing the Agenda for Sustainable Development looking to 2030.  The Sustainable Development Goals include a stand-alone goal to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girls.

North Korea’s female population should not be forgotten on March 8th.  Gendered violence and discrimination are destroying lives and ruining families in North Korea.  Women are enduring unimaginable suffering and the UK must use what engagement it has with the DPRK to push for real change.  The APPG’s conference on VAWG in North Korea brought together North Korean victims, exiled DPRK Government officials and experts on gender and the rights of women and girls.  Women’s and girls’ human rights is an area in which the UK exhibits international leadership. Let us draw from our knowledge and set out to challenge gendered violence in the DPRK just as we do in so many other countries in the world.

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, is Co-Chair of the APPG on North Korea jointly with Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and Lord Alton of Liverpool.


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Video highlighting violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean

This is a must-see video produced in Venezuela by Amnesty which describes the range of attitudes and policies which need to change if violence against women is to cease.  No, it is not about women being beaten up but the wide range of policies concerning rape, reproductive rights and the treatment of ethnic groups which amount in some cases to torture and to the violation of human rights.  Only 2 minutes.

YouTube Video


Film focusing on ‘honour violence’ to be shown in London

Honor Diaries is the first film to break the silence on ‘honor violence’ against women and girls.  It features nine courageous women’s rights advocates, with connections to Muslim-majority societies, who are engaged in a dialogue about gender inequality.  These women, who have witnessed firsthand the hardships women endure, are profiled in their efforts to affect change, both in their communities and beyond.

The film gives a platform to exclusively female voices and seeks to expose the paralyzing political correctness that prevents many from identifying, understanding and addressing this international human rights disaster.  Freedom of movement, the right to education, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation are some of the systematic abuses explored in depth.

Spurred by the Arab Uprising, women who were once silent are starting to speak out about gender inequality and are bringing visibility to a long history of oppression. This project draws together leading women’s rights activists and provides a platform where their voices can be heard and serves as inspiration to motivate others to speak out.

Free tickets are available via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/honor-diaries-screening-and-qa-tickets-19997574283

When: Thursday, 28 January 2016 from 19:00 to 22:00 (GMT)
Where: Amnesty International UK – 25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA GB

Please note this video contains images which will distress some people – viewer discretion is advised

honor diaries 2


Woman at risk of a forced virginity test in Iran

Atena Farghadani

Atena Farghadani

On 1 June, Atena Farghadani, a 29-year-old painter and activist, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison simply because she was seen to be critical of the Iranian regime in her art and in her peaceful activism.

Atena had used her right to freedom of expression to show her dissent at a new government Bill in a cartoon she’d drawn; she associated with the families of political prisoners; she posted anti-government messages on Facebook.

Atena’s peaceful activism led to her arrest in August 2014, a period of detention and release before being rearrested in November.

In June 2015, she was prosecuted by the Iranian state and found guilty of charges including:

  • Gathering and colluding against national security
  • Insulting members of parliament through paintings
  • Spreading propaganda against the system
  • Insulting the President and insulting the Supreme Leader.

Atena’s trial lasted just half a day. The ‘evidence’ against her relied on Atena’s answers under long stretches of interrogation, while she was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family.

Atena is now imprisoned for 12 years and nine months, simply for being seen to be critical of the authorities.

Now facing adultery charges for shaking hands with her lawyer

Atena’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, visited Atena in prison after her trial and shook her hand. The handshake led to charges of ‘illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery’ and ‘indecent conduct’ being brought against both Atena and her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, who will be tried for those charges in due course.

Mohammad was arrested on 13 June for shaking Atena’s hand, and released three days later after he’d paid a bail amounting to around $60,000.  Both Mohammad and Atena will be tried for indecent conduct and illegitimate sexual relationship for shaking hands in prison.

On 9 October we saw a note leaked from prison by Atena that said ahead of her trial for this ‘crime’ she was forced to have a virginity and pregancy test – apparently to investigate the charge against her. Such virginity testing is internationally recognised as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Iran’s judicial authorities really have reached a new low.  Tell them they must immediately release Atena and investigate the mistreatment she says she’s experienced.

Prisoner of conscience

Atena has effectively been punished for her cartoons with a sentence that is itself a gross caricature of justice. No one should be in jail for their art or peaceful activism”
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa

Atena is a prisoner of conscience – she has committed no real crime. She is being unfairly punished simply for exercising her right to free speech, association and assembly.  Iran has pledged to protect free speech, including through artistic activities, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Please sign the petition and call on Iran’s Supreme Leader and the Head of the Iranian Judiciary to release Atena immediately.

Beaten in detention, punished for speaking out

Last August, 12 members of the Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house.  They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.  Atena was released in November last year, but rearrested just six weeks later. In the time that she was released, she gave media interviews and posted a video on YouTube describing how the prison guards had interrogated her for 9 hours every day for six weeks.  She said that female prison guards had beaten her and subjected her to degrading body searches.

Just weeks after posting her YouTube video, Atena was once again arrested – possibly as reprisal for speaking out.

Hunger strike in protest at prison conditions

Atena was kept in solitary confinement for over two weeks when she was detained last year in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.  During that time she was denied access to her lawyer or family.  After her release from detention, she said that she’d been beaten by prison guards.

Three weeks after she was rearrested in January this year, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions, in a jail that does not have a section for political prisoners.  Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us that Atena had suffered a heart attack and briefly lost consciousness in late February as a result of her hunger strike.

Call on Iran to release Atena and reunite her with her family immediately: she has committed no crime.


If you are moved to sign the petition, please go to:

Amnesty article with petition


UPDATE: 3 August

At the end of this blog we wrote ‘it seems therefore that nothing will change’.  How wrong can you be as it has just been announced that the FCO will no longer be specifically campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty.  The FCO to us was dated 6 July and Mr Glen’s covering letter dated 14 July.  So in the space of a few weeks abolishing the death penalty world wide has gone from ‘a human rights priority for the UK’ to being no longer a policy.  The group plans to write to Mr Glen again to seek clarification.


The Salisbury Group wrote to the local MP, Mr John Glen to ask for a more robust response by our government to the No to the death penaltybarbaric activities of the Saudi government in particular the increasing number of executions which are taking place.  In our letter we said:

[we are writing] to you in connection with the increasing level of executions currently taking place in Saudi Arabia.  (Over the course of the first five months of this year, the number of executions has equalled that of the whole of 2014).

You will no doubt be aware that on his recent visit to the country, President Francois Hollande made a public statement to the effect that all executions, not just those of his own nationals, should be banned, and called for the abolition of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

M. Hollande was prepared to do this, despite the fact that France – as does the United Kingdom – has significant financial interests in the its dealings with Saudi Arabia. The British government, however, has never seen fit to raise the issue in public, preferring to pursue a policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’.  This policy has manifestly had no effect.  Numbers continue to rise, and the Saudi Government have now advertised for eight additional executioners – ‘no particular skills required.’

As a group, we are asking that your government should take a much more robust line over the issue with the Saudi government.

Whereas the government – including the Prime Minister – has been vocal in its criticisms of the Islamic State for its appalling behaviour and of Russia for its activities in Ukraine, they seem strangely silent when it comes to Saudi Arabia.  This contrasts with France which has openly criticised them and Sweden which has decided no longer to sell them arms.

Mr Glen replied, enclosing a letter from the FCO minister, and said:

I enclose correspondence from the FCO minister Tobius Ellwood in reply to your recent letter about the UK’s apparent reticence when it comes to condemning the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

As you can see, the approach taken by the government is not in any way indicative of an equivocal view on this practice, which is as barbaric as it is ineffective.

However, the government recognises that its abolition is not a matter of mere legal reform but would require a seismic societal shift.  It has therefore taken an approach which it feels is most constructive – engaging behind the scenes rather than inflaming the situation and triggering a backlash through outspoken public critique.

The letter from the Foreign and Colonial Office is as follows:

[…] The abolition of the death penalty is a human rights priority for the UK.  The UK opposes the death penalty around the world because we believe it undermines human dignity and there is no evidence that it works as a deterrent.

Saudi Arabia remains a country of concern on human rights, because of its use of the death penalty as well as the restricted access to justice, women’s rights, and the restrictions of the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion or belief.

Ministers, our Ambassador, and the Embassy team in Riyadh frequently raise the issue of the death penalty with the Saudi authorities, bilaterally and through the European Union.  As it is part of Sharia Law, we must recognise that total abolition of the death penalty is unlikely in Saudi Arabia in the near future.  For now, our focus is on the introduction of EU minimum standards for the death penalty as a first step, and supporting access to justice and the rule of law.

The British Government’s position on human rights is a matter of public record.  We regularly make our views well known including the UN Universal Periodic Review process and the Foreign and Colonial Office’s  annual Human Rights and Democracy Report.  We also raise our human rights concerns with Saudi Arabian authorities at the highest level.  But we have to recognise that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia reflects widely held conservative social values and that our human rights concerns are best raised in private rather than in public.

It seems therefore that nothing will change.  It is important to recognise that behind the scenes lobbying can be constructive.  However, the policy of raising matters ‘in private rather than in public’ does not appear to be working.  Successive governments have courted the regime and Saudis are free to invest in London and elsewhere in the UK.

Eurofighter of the type sold to Saudi ArabiaIt would be naïve not to recognise the reality behind this reluctance to criticise the Saudis and the importance to the government of the sale of arms and the supply of oil.  Saudi Arabia is a key market for the UK and much effort is put into promoting sales including by members of the royal family – see the Guardian article:  Human rights are of secondary concern.

As long as these interests are paramount, it is difficult to see how the toll of executions can be checked in the near future.

 


UPDATE 25TH MARCH

The film Bastards (12A) was shown this Wednesday 25 March starting at 7.30 and the audience reaction was very positive indeed.  There were many questions to the producer Deborah Perkin.

This is a fascinating and highly-acclaimed documentary about one Moroccan woman’s struggle to legitimise her daughter and the director, Deborah Perkin will be there to answer questions.  The film follows an illiterate young woman who took on her own family and the Moroccan justice system for the sake of her illegitimate child.   It is a gripping, moving and uplifting documentary from the cutting edge of Islam.
Deborah Perkin is the first person to film in a court in Morocco, a country which leads the world in its legal efforts to give women and children more rights under Sharia law.

In Morocco, as in all Muslim countries, sex outside marriage is illegal and women bear the brunt of society’s disapproval.  But what is the fate of the children of those single mothers?  They cannot attend the better schools, are turned away from infant immunisation clinics and refused government posts.  Jobs, housing and a huge range of social advantages are denied them.  They are despised outcasts, condemned to a life of discrimination.  Bastards is the first film to tell this story from a mother’s point of view.


stop_tortureWe shall have a petition to sign about torture in Morocco.  Morocco is one of the five countries highlighted by Amnesty International in its #StopTorture campaign.  We are pleased to say many people signed our petitions at the end of the showing.  Thanks to the Arts Centre.

Britain’s role in Afghanistan is coming to an after over a decade of bloodshed and war.  It is doubtful that the country is in a fit state to function effectively since the Taliban and the warlords are still very much in evidence and there are reports of ISIS being present in the country as well.  After all this time it is easy to forget some of the original aims which were defeating terrorism and the Taliban.  We can also forget that it was the CIA who helped establish, arm and train the Taliban in order to assist them in their fight with the Russians.

One of the major victims of the years of war is women.  It has turned thousand of Afghan women into refugees and widows – or both – and made it dangerous for them to seek schooling, go out to work, get healthcare or secure paid employment.  Before the arrival of the Taliban in 1996, women’s rights had steadily improved and indeed, there are many photographs from that era women and girls in schools and university with not a burqa or veil in sight.  Improving the rights of women became one of the additional aims of the invasion and it will be recalled that Cherie Blair – wife of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair – hosted an event in 10, Downing Street in 2001 with this aim in mind.  Kofi Annan said:

There cannot be true peace and recovery in Afghanistan without a restoration of the rights of women.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the then secretary of state Colin Powell:

The recovery of Afghanistan must entail a restoration of the rights of women, indeed it will not be possible without them.

Abdul Hakim Hashemi  Hademi

Abdul Hakim Hashemi Hademi

At the South West regional conference of Amnesty International it was heartening to hear from someone who has worked to improve the status of women through theatre and artistic groups in the countryside.  The speaker was Abdul Hakim Hashemi Hamidi who set up the Simorgh Film Association of Culture and Art, SFACA.  Unlike many aid programmes which tend to stay in Kabul or the main cities, SFACA goes out into the countryside and to the villages.

He has organised educational theatre workshops in prisons, juvenile correction centres, drug addiction rehabilitation centres, in schools and with the police.  He has produced films with an emphasis on human rights and the role of women.

Not all the problems faced by women are solely to do with the Taliban. Another factor is honour killings which are at a very high rate in the country.  57% are identified as the responsibility of a family member and 21% by the husband.  The perpetrator of 43% killings is unclear however.  A telling quote from the PowerPoint display was:

A problem with women [is] because men don’t accept women have rights

He went on to discuss the problems of human rights defenders in Afghanistan. These included difficulty in

Delegates at the South West Region conference

Delegates at the South West Region conference

travelling to some areas combined with a lack of government control in some parts of the country, traditional beliefs and illiteracy.  Religion was a main cause he said and human rights are seen as a western construct.  He urged that the UK government consider the role of human rights defenders in their discussions with the Afghans.

It was an interesting and uplifting talk by someone who has taken risks to go into the Afghanistan countryside to promote the rights of women.  Abdul is a visiting fellow on the Protective Fellowship Scheme for Human Rights Defenders at York UniversityThere is a permanent link to the York University Centre for Applied Human Rights at the bottom of the main page.

Sources:

Watson Institute

Global Research

Amnesty International